By local Kuching blogger, Hani Lutfi
Kuching is the capital city of Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian areas of the Borneo Island. The tropical city has a great mix of culture and races and has become one of the most ideal vacation spots in Southeast Asia, especially after being awarded the title, “City of Unity”. While you might be looking online at great things to do and see in Kuching, there are a few gems of Kuching that might get left out and today, as a local of Kuching my job is to give you a rundown of the things you should do in Kuching that you might not already know.
Local Tips: Things to do in Kuching
1) Hang out at Locals’ Favourite Spots
Kuching has recently grown in many ways when it comes to food. With so many cafes and restaurants, Kuchingites are definitely spoiled for choice. If you’re ditching the great bars and clubs for a night, then these few places are ones you should check out.
The New Galley’s Café is a great hookah place in the Satok area, it opens until late and is full almost every night, even on weekdays. The café serves more Sarawakian favourites like the Sarawak style butter chicken fried rice, mee kolok tumis (the café’s special rendition of the mee kolok), grilled sandwiches, pasta and more. With a wide selection of hookahs to choose from, it’s always filled with youngsters.
Carpark Café is another extraordinary place to chill at as it is situated in an actual carpark and it can be considered as one of those in-trend container cafes. The café serves dishes like the chicken chop, nasi lemak, and of course the Sarawakian supper favourite – banana cheese with a wide selection of toppings like Famous Amos cookie crumbs, Oreo cookie crumbs and more. The banana cheese is basically banana fritters with cheese and condensed milk. Carpark Café also serves one of the most refined teh tarik I’ve tasted in the whole of Kuching!
MK Classico Café is a hipster café in town, close to great restaurants like The Junk and Blablabla. It’s a great place to have some coffee and enjoy looking at some of the art and vintage knick knacks they have on display. The café serves up amazing burgers, pizzas, pasta AND they have the best cakes and coffee. If you fall in the love with the decor, take it home — for a price of course, as the furniture is also for sale.
2) Experience the Kuching “teatime”
While you might be used to having tea in pretty little teacups with little pastries and sandwiches in the evening, the people in Kuching do it a bit more differently with shaved ice desserts and hawker style dishes.
Swee Kang is every Kuchingite’s favourite place to hang out at most weekends when the sun is ready to set. Most people opt for the Jagung Milo, a shaved ice dessert you can’t find anywhere outside Sarawak. Jagung Milo, which literally means corn and Milo, is basically a delicious bowl of shaved ice, milk, corn and Milo and it’s the best thing you can have on a hot and sunny day.
Of course, being Malaysians, you can still find more popular Malaysian shaved ice desserts like the ABC, Ais Kacang and more.
To complete the entire experience, you must try the char kueh, rojak, lok lok and mee belacan.
3) Catch the Perfect View of the City
Kuching does not have a lot of tall buildings to observe the city from, but there are a few special places where you can definitely catch the most breath-taking views. Pictures don’t do it justice so it’s well worth visiting in person.
The Siol Hill is home to the Kuching North City Hall and the Cat Museum. At the top of the hill, you can find the most beautiful garden, man-made waterfall and the most beautiful view. You can see some of the residences, tall landmarks and it’s the perfect place to sit on your car, have a few sandwiches and bask in the beautiful sight. However, the Siol Hill is not accessible during the night so I would advise you to go at 4-5PM, when the sky is settling down for the night.
The Zecon Toll Concessionaire Bridge is one of my favourite bridges to pass through in the morning and when the sun is setting because you get, again, an absolutely beautiful view of the city with the river in sight. Since it is a bridge, it is not ideal to stop and take a picture but you can always try going when the traffic is clear so you can stop without getting cursed at. Peak hours in Kuching are usually between 4-6PM and 7-9PM.
If you’re not willing to make the distant trip to the places I’ve mentioned, you can easily walk to the Riverside Majestic Hotel and hop on the elevator to the 18th floor. This would be my favourite place to go to watch fireworks on Chinese New Year or New Year’s eve.
4) Pass through Kuching Landmarks
Landmarks in Kuching often aren’t open to visitors but an easy way around this is to hop in a car and pass through to enjoy the beautiful architecture.
The State Legislative Assembly building is pretty popular in the guide books but what you might not know is that there are two State Legislative Assembly buildings. The buildings are located in the Astana area so if you can get someone to take you around, it’s always nice to pass through the buildings as they are not too far away from each other. You can go to the old State Legislative Assembly building, located across the Kuching courthouse then go on to the newer building, which is right beside the Rajah Brooke Astana where the Yang Di-Pertua Negeri lives and the Orchid Park which is open from 9.30AM till 6PM.
The Borneo Convention Centre Kuching has one of the most remarkable architecture as it was built to look like a bird’s nest. The building is located in The Isthmus area of Bako and is one of the most grand exhibition halls in Kuching.
The Baitulmakmur Building is located along Jalan Tun Abdul Rahman in the Petra Jaya area. The entire Baitulmakmur compound looks ordinary as you drive towards it but as soon as you stop by the bridge and see the large man-made lake, it’s a feeling like no other.
Other landmarks like the Indian Mosque, Jamek Mosque, Kuching North City Hall, Kuching South City Council building, the Malaysia-China Friendship Park are also worth the visit.
5) Cross the Sarawak River
The Sarawak River divides the centre of Kuching from the rest of the city and over the decades, people have been going back and forth by the sampan. Now, the sampan remains as a form of transportation called the penambang and is kept as a tourist attraction. For only 50 cents (RM1 after 7PM), you can go from the Kuching Waterfront to Kampung Gersik and explore that part of the city, called the Petra Jaya area.
Kampung Gersik is located near a well-known kek lapis (layered cake) shop which is a Sarawak specialty and is located near other tourist attractions like the Fort Margherita. If you can get someone to take you on a tour around that particular area of Kuching, you can kill two birds with one stone by using the penambang to get to Kampung Gersik then ask him or her to meet you there.
At the Waterfront, you can also get on the cruise or the donut boat for the fun of it.
6) Have a taste of some authentic traditional food
Sarawak is famous for its Sarawak Laksa and Mee Kolok. However, there are many traditional dishes that get left out.
Dishes like the manok pansuh, linut (which is also known as ambuyat in the Philippines as a Filipino specialty), umai (something like a ceviche) and the midin (jungle fern) are more difficult to find around the city. However, My Village Barok has all of them under one roof.
My Village Barok is a restaurant serving Sarawakian food at Kampung Gersik. To get there, you can use the penambang I mentioned earlier. (More birds being killed with that one stone eh?)
umai (raw fish salad)
7) Modern Sarawakian Specialties
Over the past couple of years, Sarawakians have been more creative with more classic ingredients.
Gulapong, also known as Gula Nipah in West Malaysia, is palm sugar, which has a distinct flavour to it. The gulapong ice-cream has been around since I was a little girl in the early 2000s. However, the popularity of the gulapong ice-cream was boosted when a classic gulapong ice-cream shop at the Open Air market opposite Electra House in town was taken over by the son of the owner. The shop has been around for ages and still remains a hot favourite among Kuchingites. The gulapong ice-cream is a vanilla or pandan flavoured ice-cream with gulapong syrup, topped off with your choice of cornflakes, crushed peanuts or both.
In the past few months, more gulapong ice-cream shops have opened and a couple of them have made their mark. DP Ice-Cream, a shop located close to the cat statue at Padungan serves gulapong flavoured ice-cream with gulapong syrup and the choice between Nestum, Oreo crumbs, crushed peanuts or all.
Borneo Ice-Cream is another shop located in the Taman Hussein neighbourhood and they serve Horlicks flavoured ice-cream with gulapong caramel and Oreo crumbs.
The banana cheese is another favourite and you can get them at RJ Ayam Bakar, located in town, close to DP Ice-Cream or my personal favourite, at Carpark Café.
Mushroom noodles might not be as special as you think it is but when you have orange noodles, it becomes a specialty. Mohamad Lim Mushroom Noodles, located at Ting’s Café in the Bukit Mata area, has been around since I was a little girl and still remains as my favourite place to have breakfast. Go to the Riverside Mall, find the children’s or homeware department and you’ll see an exit which will lead you to a few shops. From the exit, you can see Ting’s Café very clearly. Or ask a friendly local for directions.
Mohamad Lim Mushroom Noodles
8) Pay the beach a visit
If you want to know what the people of Kuching do to “get away” from the “hustle and bustle” of the city (not that Kuching has that much hustle and bustle) it’s hitting the the beach. The Santubong area is home to many different beaches.
Most Kuchingites prefer to stay at the Damai beach resorts to feel like they’re on a vacation but if they’re not relaxing in a hotel room, they go to a couple of the public beaches available in the area. Pasir Panjang is the first beach stumble upon on your way to Santubong. so many people prefer going there to save time (and petrol).
But some don’t mind heading to the Damai Central, a beach hub located between the Damai Beach resort and the Damai Puri resort, opposite the famous Sarawak Cultural Village. At the Damai Central, there’s more food to fill your belly but at Pasir Panjang, you’ll have more space to run around or have a picnic on the beach.
They’re all so great and the absolute best thing to do in Kuching on a clear and sunny Sunday afternoon.
Well, that wraps up my tips for a few lesser-known things to do in Kuching, through the eyes of a local. I hope these tips can help you sort out your travel itinerary no matter how long or short your visit to Kuching is.
Image Credits: Hani Lutfi, Rebecca P.
About the Author
Hani Lutfi is a 19-year-old blogger and resident of beautiful Sarawak, Borneo. Hani writes about life in Borneo, the local experience of Kuching including great food spots, and her travel experiences in The Lunch Companion. She is part of the Sarawak Bloggers Society.